This year Bloomberg Green has released three articles (links to them can be found below) regarding the dark underbelly of plastic recycling, and a lot of the news is not positive. TerraCycle Inc., Eurokey Recycling Group, and a number of other organizations have been and/or are still involved in a number of questionable recycling practices, including exporting plastic waste to other countries and selling plastic to a cement maker to be burned.
In an even more questionable practice, several companies formed Ghana Recycling Initiative by Private Enterprises (GRIPE), which proports to encourage plastic recycling while actually doing next to nothing to address the plastic waste that is current choking Ghana. GRIPE provides a few dollars to economically oppressed people in Ghana for the hours of work they put into collecting plastic waste, and then once the waste is brought to a receiving facility GRIPE it is not then used to create additional products that can continue to be recycled. Bloomberg estimates that less than 0.1% of plastic is recycled in Ghana.
Unfortunately, this continues a long history of pretending to use recycling as a way to reduce emissions and waste without largely reducing either. As the article titled “A Plastic Bag’s 2,000-Mile Journey Shows the Messy Truth About Recycling” notes, prior to 2017 plastic recycling largely consisted of shipping such waste to China. Now many companies around the world lobby against making plastic illegal, and recycling is often a matter of moving waste from one country to the next or burning it at recycling facilities and other locations.
However, the news is not all bad thanks to the growing demand for hydrogen! There are multiple organizations around the world including Hyundai Heavy Industries, Plagazi, and Raven SR that can convert green clips, sewage, AND plastic waste into hydrogen. In the case of Raven SR, it plans to use a non-combustion process so its waste-to-hydrogen process should not produce any harmful emissions. Not only will this help to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and the ocean, but it will also help provide hydrogen to fuel FCEVs, airplanes, and more.
While organizations employing waste-to-hydrogen processes can be really beneficial, ultimately consumers need to ensure that they are taking the steps they can individually to limit the use of something like plastic. Cloth grocery bags, cornstarch or metal cutlery, and buying things made out of bamboo instead of plastic are all ways people can cut down on the non-biodegradable waste that they create. The degradation of Earth did not happen overnight, and it will take all of us making better choices, like driving FCEVs, for the Earth to heal.
Please use the below links to check out the Bloomberg Green articles referenced above.